Saturday, May 30, 2009

"For Baby (For Bobbie)" -- Part Four, 1974



First, although this has nothing to do with today's entry... I'd like to mention that Thursday, May 28th, would have been the 78th birthday of the late Eric Von Schmidt, singer/songwriter and painter who died in 2007. Von Schmidt was the "Rick Von Schmidt" the young Bob Dylan credited with having taught him the song "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down," a song Von Schmidt performed but did not write.

And now, today's chapter:

Previously:
The year is 1974. Robert "Eli" Whitney, sexually-overactive high school graduate, and an unpopular albeit attractive sophomore named Karen Hoffman -- known as "Boris Karloff" or simply "Karloff" for no reason other than the fact that high school kids are predominately vicious little creeps -- have become friends.

More or less.

This is actually rather amazing, considering the fact that Eli, basically, is an obnoxious jerk. Most of the time, anyway.



* * * * *

September, 1974. Karen was now a junior.

Or, as Karen herself would have thought of it... Whoopie.

Karen wasn't entirely friendless, although she was still generally regarded as unpopular at school. Most of her handful of school friends -- all female -- were similarly branded as outcasts. They were either too smart, too independent, too unattractive (actually, make that "plain"), or some combination of the three which the "cool" kids found unforgivable.

With her limited social life -- she saw her friends at school, mostly -- Karen was generally available whenever Eli would show up, usually unannounced, to take her out for a few beers and some conversation.

Eli was Karen's only male friend. That, and the fact that he was an "older man," made the subject of "Eli and Karen" irresistible to Karen's friends... all of whom called her "Karrie." "No offense, Karrie... ha, ha... but what does he see in you?" "You two are doin' it, aren't ya?" "Did he really make it with every girl he graduated with?" "Well, if you're not sleeping with him, Karrie, what do you guys do when you get together?"

Karen always laughed at their teasing questions. "We talk a lot, mostly. And he's old enough to buy booze, so we get blitzed, sometimes."

One day, in the school cafeteria, Karen's friend Barbara, an absolutely lovely, green-eyed redhead unfortunate enough to be criminally overweight in the eyes of the popular students, joked "Better watch it, Karrie, or someday he'll get you drunk and have his way with you."

"I doubt it," replied Karen. "In fact, he's never tried anything."

Barbara suddenly became serious. "Not even 'accidentally' feeling you up when he hugs you, something like that? A lotta guys--"

"He doesn't hug me. In fact," she continued, as an uncomfortable feeling dawned on her, "he never touches me at all."

Another friend, petite and bespectacled Joyce, put down her tuna sandwich to join the conversation. "No goodnight kisses? Not even the brother-sister kind?"

"No! He's never kissed me on the cheek, or the forehead, or..."

Barbara laughed. "Or anyplace more interesting?"

Karen blushed. "Quit it. That's not what I was going to say." She looked at the group seriously. "He never touches me at all," she repeated.

"Maybe he's afraid to, 'cause of your age?" offered Joyce.

"Oh, come on!" scoffed Barbara. "Just touching her isn't the same thing as... well, you know."

Joyce looked at Karen pointedly. "It's none of my business, Karrie, but have you ever told him anything about your... ummm... I don't know..."

"What are you trying to say, Joyce?"

"Look, I just mean, have you ever told him about... anything in your past, or...?"

"In my past? Geez, Joyce, you've been spending too much time with your psychology books! I don't have any 'issues,' if that's what you mean!"

"Oh. I thought maybe you'd told him something and he was backing off because of that. I wasn't trying to pry..." Joyce said.

"You weren't. Geez! Stop squirming, will you?" The girls all laughed.

And the subject died.

Later, however, Karen wondered if there had been something she'd said or done to make Eli think she was "untouchable," even in friendly ways... which were the only ways she would have wanted him to touch her.

She wondered if she should come right out and ask him, but she was still walking on eggshells where he was concerned. He didn't share much about himself with her, not his inner feelings, or even many details about his life in general. Ordinarily, this didn't bother her, because most people -- Karen included -- defined a "good conversationalist" as "someone who will let you dump your baggage on their doorstep," so to speak.... and Karen loved to talk about herself.

Now, however, she was wondering about the whys and wherefores of this particular topic, since it directly involved her.

The next time Eli showed up at her home, it was with a full cooler of Heineken. Karen had already promised herself she'd find a way to bring up the subject of "touching" before the night was through.

As usual, Eli was driving merrily along the back roads of various towns near where he and Karen lived. Karen had just finished her third beer before Eli asked her to hand him his fifth. "Wow," she warned, only half-kiddingly, "you should slow down, or you'll wrap this car around a tree."

"No lectures, okay? I'm celebrating tonight."

"Oh, no wonder we're drinking imported beer instead of domestic. What's the occasion? New girlfriend?"

"No. That's never any big deal." He paused. "It's my birthday, actually."

Karen almost choked on her beer. "Oh, my...! You're kidding!"

"No, of course I'm not kidding. Why would I kid about that?"

"It's just that... Today's my birthday, too."

"Now you're kidding, right?"

"Nope. I swear." She laughed. "Huh! So much for astrology!"

"What the hell does that mean?"

"Here we are, born on the very same day -- well, two years apart -- and we're not alike at all."

Eli chuckled. "Oh. Yeah." He burped, and they both laughed. "Hey, why didn't you tell me earlier that your birthday was coming up?"

"Honestly?"

"Yes."

"I... I didn't think you'd really care."

"Well, I do. And I would have gotten you something."

"And why didn't you tell me about your birthday?"

"It's no big deal."

"Right. Then why the Heineken?"

"I meant, it's no big deal to anyone else. Just me."

"That's not true. It's a big deal to me, too."

He took his eyes off the road for a brief moment, looking at her quizzically. "Really?" She nodded. "Thanks. And, I'll tell you what: I'll get you a present for the next time we go out."

"Umm... I can save you some money."

"How so?"

"If you answer a question for me, a serious question, I'll consider that my present."

"Ooh," said Eli, teasingly. "This must be a biggie!"

"I think so," she agreed, nodding. "I think so, yes."

"Shoot. But this is not your present. I still owe you one."

"Okay, if I can buy you one."

"Sure." Karen didn't speak. Eli laughed. "Well, what's the question?"

She sipped nervously at her Heineken. "We're friends, right?"

"That's the question?"

"No, no! But... We're friends?"

"Sure."

"Then... Why haven't you ever touched me?"

"Touched you? You mean, like, made a pass at you?"

"No! Just like a friend, you know, like when you put your arm around a buddy's shoulders, or..."

"I don't... I'm not a touchy person."

"But..."

"Sorry. Umm... Does this really bother you?"

"Kind of. You've never touched me, except for when you flopped on top of me to keep me from falling out of the car..."

"After the Denver concert?" Eli laughed. "When you threw up?"

"Yes. That was the only time you ever touched me."

"Wrong."

"What do you mean, wrong?"

"Think back to Teddy's party, on graduation night. Remember?"

"No."

"I grabbed your hand when I dragged you out of the cellar."

She grinned. "That's right! You held my hand!"

"I didn't 'hold' your hand, I grabbed it so I could pull you out of there before Wendy could jump you!"

Karen was smiling ear to ear. "That's right. That's right."

"You're way too happy about something so simple." She shrugged. "End of conversation?" She nodded again. "Hey, will you answer me?"

"I did. I nodded."

"Well, I'm watching the road! Did you expect me to hear your head rattle?"

She didn't even mind the insulting jest. She really was feeling happy over something so simple.

What happened later could have been a result of the all-around good feelings. It could have been the dual birthdays and the attendant air of celebration. It could have been the fact that, in Karen's mind, Eli had somehow "shared" something with her that brought them closer. It could have been the three six packs of Heineken they'd imbibed by the end of the evening (Eli had eleven to Karen's seven).

More probably, it was the combination of all of the above plus a few other ingredients no one ever factored into the mix.

Whatever the reason(s), the night ended with a sweaty and embarrassed Karen and Eli getting dressed in a little field (only twenty feet or so from the side of a back road where he'd parked his Plymouth) after having made love... or whatever one would call what they'd done.

It never happened again. And they didn't discuss it for a long time.

Not until they had to.

* * * * *


The late November evening was abnormally cold, and the roads were slick with new-fallen snow and ice. Not the best weather for Eli and Karen to be engaged in their usual riding around & drinking ritual, but... they were.  Karen was still on her first beer when Eli asked her to hand him his fourth.

"Here you go," she said, after having removed the pull-tab from his can. He sort of grunted as a thank-you. "Hey, can I ask you something?"

"I guess. Shoot."

"If you ever had a kid -- a son, I mean -- would you name him after you?"

"You mean, Eli? Or... Robert?" he said, making one of the few references to his real name that anyone ever made. (Even Eli's high school principal, handing out diplomas at Eli's graduation, had looked at the name "Robert Michael Whitney" on the list of graduates as though he had no idea who that was... although Eli himself was quite well known to students and faculty alike.)

"Robert. Your real name."

"No way. I hate it when people name their kids after them. Parents do that, but then spend the rest of their lives calling the kid something else so nobody will get confused when the kid gets older! You call your friend at home and ask for Jack, and his mom says 'Big Jack or Little Jack?' And you have to think about it, 'cause the so-called Big Jack, the dad, is 5'6" and weighs about 150, but your friend Little Jack, the college football player, is 6'3" and weighs 240..."

"But in your case, you could name a son Robert, and there wouldn't be any confusion like that, because no one calls you Robert! I mean, you could call him Bobby, or Bob, or Robbie, or..."

"Yeah, right, whatever." He laughed. "I could have a boy and a girl and name them both Bobby, only spell the girl's name with an 'I' and an 'E' at the end, like in that John Denver song, 'For Baby (For Bobbie)', right?"

"Oooh, yes! I didn't think of that! I love that song! It's one of the first ones he ever wrote, you know." In reply, Eli grunted again, a grunt which Karen thought might have meant "I know, stupid," or "I didn't know, but I don't really care."

"Anyway, no Roberts or Bobbies for me, okay?"

"I love the name Bobbie for a girl..." Karen said, more to herself than to him.

"Good. You go and have a kid named Bobbie!" He shook his head. "Why the hell are we even talking about this?"

"No reason..."

"It really doesn't matter what I'd name a kid. I'm never going to have any."

"Oh, come on, Eli. Sooner or later, one of your bimbos will win that stony heart of yours, and you'll--"

"This has nothing to do with whether or not I find my la-de-da one-and-only. I'm just talking about children. I don't want them. Ever. I don't like them. They start out as smelly little lumps, and grow into the kinds of malicious high school teenagers I finally escaped from last spring!" Eli slowed his Plymouth as a signal light ahead turned from yellow to red. As he stopped the car, he turned to look at Karen.

She was crying silently.

"What's wrong with you?" he asked, rather rudely.

"You... you really hate children that much?"

"Honestly, yes... What the hell is wrong with you?"

"I'm going to be sick. Oh, my God, I'm going to be sick!"

Eli looked ahead, and then in the rear-view mirror. There was no traffic around. "Open the door!" yelled Eli.

She did. She leaned out far enough not to splatter the car with what little she vomited. The light changed, but Eli waited until Karen righted herself and closed the door before he took his foot off the brake. "Damn, girl! Roll down your window... and take a few swallows of beer, if you can. And... do you have any gum, or candy?"

"As a matter of fact, I do. I've been throwing up a lot lately." She paused. "Mostly in the mornings."

Well. Eli didn't need the proverbial house to fall on him. He made a quick mental list of little items from the last few minutes of conversation, and gritted his teeth grimly. He found a place to park, and stopped the car.

"Go ahead," he began. "Say it."

"Say what?"

"Don't play games. You're pregnant, right?"

"Yes," she said, her voice barely above a whisper.

"Whose is it?"

"That's a stupid question. It's yours, of course."

"Are you sure?"

"How dare you say that?!? For crying out loud, Eli, have I ever talked about having any other... I mean, any boyfriends? Any boyfriends?"

"No, but... I don't just assume you tell me everything! I don't tell you about all the broads I date..."

"Which is fine, because I don't need to hear all those dirty details." She suddenly slammed her fists against the Fury's dashboard. Fury, she thought, how damned appropriate. "Can we get back to the real subject, here?" she shouted.

"Don't yell at me!" He realized that he was sweating. "God, Karen... How could you let this happen?"

"How could I...? You were there, too, remember?"

He'd slept with more women than he could count in his nineteen years, but most of them were what were still called "bad girls" in that long-ago time, and there was that old chestnut about how only the "good" girls got pregnant, because the "bad" girls knew what to do -- and what not to do -- to avoid pregnancy. So he'd never been faced with this before.

He felt boxed in, cornered. Predictably, he wasn't going to handle this situation well... but everything in his past and everything in his future was reflected in, or affected by, his next four words.

"Get rid of it."

Karen was dumbfounded. She put her hand to the side of her face as if she'd just been slapped... which, of course, she had been, in a very real way.

"What? What did you say?"

Now was his chance to correct things.

Now was his chance.

So he replied "I said... Get rid of it."

"It? That's not... It's not an 'it.' I mean..."

"I know what you mean."

"Look who just turned into Mr. Understanding. This is a child we're talking about. Our child!"

"It's not our child. It's... our mistake."

Karen looked at Eli like she'd never seen him before, which in a way, was quite true. "Wow. You're just going from bad to worse to even worse! Who are you?"

"Look, you need to calm down and think about this logically, not emotionally."

She was crying again... and this time, Karen understood for the first time what people referred to as "tears of rage."

"Take me home," she said. "And don't you say another word to me."

The silent drive to Karen's home was unmercifully lengthy. Part of her wished Eli would realize what an absolute ass he was being, and apologize, or otherwise retract what he'd said...

He said nothing, even when they arrived at her house and he stopped the car.

Her original plan had been to exit the Plymouth in silence, without looking back. However, as she got out, she looked him in the eye. "Maybe having sex that night was a mistake, but I liked you, maybe even loved you as a friend, as someone I trusted, and I felt safe with you. But... I feel so betrayed right now, I don't want anything to do with you, ever again. So that means that I want no part of you, either... not even this poor innocent life we so stupidly created." She wished she could read the expression on his face, but she couldn't. "So congratulations, Eli!" she said, brightly (but sarcastically). "You'll get your wish."

She resisted the urge to slam the car door.

Karen walked along the driveway, toward her house. And Eli simply drove away.

Neither ever called the other again. They never spoke again. They never saw each other, not even in passing, again.

And shortly thereafter, Eli left Massachusetts entirely.

Even so, as mentioned above, everything in Eli's past and everything in his future was reflected in, or affected by, his four words: "Get rid of it."

* * * * *

Next: 2009, roughly thirty-five years after the night it all turned to shit!

I fully expect Part Five-and-Final to be posted at 12:01 AM on Tuesday, June 2. It's already approximately 75% done!

Thanks for your time.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Gonif -- A "Theme Thursday" Post



I dunno th'exact words, but there's some old sayin' like "Life's a comedy for th'man who thinks, an' a tragedy f'th'man who feels." Like I said, somethin' like that.

S'right now, I'm thinkin' -- thinkin' -- 'bout th'past couple o'days... an' laughin' my fool butt off.

Part One -- The Grab

Look, I'll be honest with ya. Whenever I got a choice 'tween doin' th'so-called "right" thing, an' doin' somethin' th'easy way, I go f'th'easy route. Even if -- hell, 'specially if -- th'easy way ain't necessarily legal. I get some weird kinda rush about breakin' th'law. It's almost a fever, or an addiction. I don't like gamblin', or binge eatin', or hookers or booze or drugs... none o'that crud. I get my rocks off doin' whatever it is that I wanna do when I know I ain't supposed t'be doin' what I wanna do!

Make sense? No? Ah, well.

Let's jus' say that in my time, ol' Lefty's done all sorts o'illegal things. Some's jus' small things, like runnin' a stop sign or a red light. Whenever I can, I'll do th'chew'n'screw bit at a diner or a reg'lar restaurant. Sometimes it's more serious stuff, like findin' a wallet an' keepin' it, or maybe cheatin' on taxes, when I bother declarin' income at all! But in sixty-plus years on this planet, I ain't never done nothin' real bad. Well... almost never.

So two days ago, I'm walkin' down by th'docks, gettin' th'simple kinda exercise that keeps me in shape like a boychik half my age... while wearin' my new suit, no less. A few feet ahead o'me, I see this homeless slob -- a tall schvartze -- trudgin' along carryin' a brand new, expensive-lookin' suitcase, an' I says t'myself, "Lefty, what's wrong with this freakin' picture?" y'know? I mean, Handsome here's sportin' a beard with th'remains o'his last few meals hangin' on it like Christmas tree ornaments, an' he's got long, kinky hair that looks like it ain't seen shampoo since they started sellin' Head & freakin' Shoulders! An' his clothes? Lord knows what color his pants were when they first came offa the rack, an' add t'them a pair o'broken vinyl shoes, no socks, an' a stained overcoat 'stead of a shirt. And this (th'overcoat) in mid-freakin'-August, no less.

So th'fancy briefcase sticks out like a sore thumb. It was a big sucker, too, an' all sorts o'possibilities started flashin' through my mind, y'know? It can't be his, I figger. He prob'ly swiped it. So even if I did have a normal-type conscience -- an' trust me, I don't -- I still woulda felt okay 'bout swipin' it from this guy.

And o'course, I did swipe it from 'im!

I followed 'im kinda discreetly for a while. He was walkin' away from th'waterfront an' toward th'city itself, so I figgered I hadda make my move soon or witnesses'd start pilin' up like pigeon droppin's on a statue. Luck'ly f'me, th'guy steps in 'tween a couple o'big crates t'take a leak, an' while he's doin' his business, I swoop by an' snatch th'case.

Nothin's ever too easy, o'course, so even as I'm makin' th'grab, Handsome's sixth-freakin'-sense or somethin' kicks in, an' he whips around -- still relievin' himself, only now on my shoes, fer cryin' out loud! -- t'take the case back. Luck'ly for ol' Lefty, the sun's in his eyes, so he doesn't get a good look at me, an' he don't see it comin' when I smack 'im as hard as I can right in the puss with th'case itself! Ha!

I take off like a bat outta hell, hearin' 'im moanin' and groanin' like a wounded animal as he lays there in his own urine. An' no, I don't look back, are you nuts? Lefty's no shmendrick.

Screw it, at least he's still alive, right?

Couldn't wait t'get home t'see what kinda goodies I got.

Part Two -- The Take

So here I was, in a fancy hotel room 'stead o'th'kinda motel rooms I'm used to, y'know, thanks t'the welcome run o'good luck I had at the dog track a few nights back. (It's how I bought my new suit, too, y'know?) I decide to be a fresser, an' call down t'room service an' order myself a thick'n'juicy hunk o'prime rib. After hangin' up th'phone I plunk Handsome's suitcase down on top o'th'bureau and start checkin' it out.

It ain't heavy, considerin' its size. An' not so surprisin', it's locked. The "locked" part just makes me laugh; I'm a pro, remember?

I get it open in a few secs, and find that somebody's wrapped an entire bedsheet 'round this whatever-it-is f'paddin', so it won't bang around too much in the suitcase. I take th'bundle out o'th'case and put it on th'bed t'give me more room t'work.

As I unwrap th'sheet, a funny smell -- like spoiled meat -- starts t'invade th'room. "Oy," says me, "This ain't good, Lefty!" Inside the sheet is somethin' long an' thick, wrapped up in some taped-up butcher paper. It ain't too big, and it's too long'n'narrow t'be, like, a human head or somethin', I figger, as I start laughin' nervously. "A freakin' head? You seen too many movies, Lefty!" I remember thinkin'. Then again, there was that rotten stink...

But it wasn't no head, o'course. Like I said, wrong shape. This thing was only a little bit bigger'n my...

Forearm.

I almost puke. Inside th'paper is some poor mamzer's left hand'n'lower left arm. It's pretty obvious that th'dear departed was a guy, from all the white hair on th'arm'... an' th'back o'th'hand, too. There's a fancy-shmantzy gold ring on his ring finger, which I don't pull off, fightin' all instinct, an' one more little detail I can't help but notice:

Whoever this unlucky soul was, he was one o'my people, an' he spent some time in one o'th'Nazi death camps... cuz there on his arm is one o'those damn tattoos I seen way too many of.

I ain't too religious, as y'mighta guessed, but this gave me the creeps. I hadda get rid of it. But since it was pretty freakin' obvious that th'luck I'd had at the track was now officially kaput, I figgered that if I just decided to toss it in th'nearest dumpster, some cop'd spot me disposin' o'th'evidence.

So I said t'myself, "Wonder if Handsome would want it back?" while I was callin' room service t'cancel my prime rib.

I'd kinda lost my appetite anyway, y'know?

Part Three -- The Meet

I wrapped that smelly sucker up in the sticky paper first, an' th'sheet second, and slammed that case shut. I took only a few secs t'wash my hands, an' off I went, headed right back t'the docks.

See, my mind was goin' a mile a minute, an' I was havin' all sorts o'creative flashes as t'exactly why this arm was in a suitcase like this. An' mixed in with th'flashes was all kindsa questions, some I could ask Handsome... but most he prob'ly woulda been clueless about. (I was still figgerin' he'd swiped th'case himself, y'know?)

The most unsettlin' thought was that this was some kinda freakin' trophy, maybe belongin' t'some professional hitman who'd kept it t'prove that he'd completed a mission, y'know? An' I sure as hell didn't want him lookin' for whoever'd ripped off his precious case, an' windin' up with me, right?

I was still on the outskirts o'th'heavier-trafficked streets, not yet even as far as th'docks, when I spotted Handsome, shufflin' along like the poor schnook he was. I hadn't been walkin' f'ten minutes! Maybe my luck wasn't totally gone, I figgered.

"Hey! Hey!" I yelled, when I'd almost caught up to 'im. A bunch o'people, Handsome included, looked t'see who I was yellin' at. I pointed right at 'im t'eliminate confusion, y'know? "You! Overcoat!"

He looked at me kinda funny for a sec, prob'ly wond'rin' what some old Jewish guy in a two-piece suit would be screamin' at him for. I mean, don't forget, he didn't really get a look at me when I snatched th'case. Then he saw th'case itself. His eyes bugged out an' he took off in th'other direction.

Maybe my spiffy suit made 'im think I was a cop, an' he figgered I wanted t'question him about the suitcase? Maybe he thought I was th'rightful owner, shall we say, an' that I wanted to "thank" him proper f'havin' ripped it off from me? Hell, did he even know what was in th'case?

I never had a chance to ask 'im any of that crap. I hadn't been chasin' Handsome for more'n a couple o'blocks before he darted into traffic an' got hit by one o'those brand-new Fords some wiseass decided to call a Mustang.

Damn.

I was far from the only one who crowded 'round 'im t'see if he was dead. An' yeah, he was. Shame.

Even as I was wond'rin' "Now what?" I got my freakin' answer. A voice outta nowhere yelled "Hey, you!" an' my head swivelled around like that broad in "The Exorcist," only to realize exactly how Handsome'd felt not two minutes earlier.

There were two guys in suits -- cheap suits, not a dandy like mine -- pointin' at me. "Yeah, you! With the suitcase!" shouted one of 'em, th'taller one. "Don't move!"

Cheap suits, I said. These weren't hitmen. These were detectives. An' when a cop tells me t'do somethin' -- anythin' -- I do the freakin' opposite, y'know?

So I took off like a raped ape... but like a schmuck, I held onto th'freakin' case, can you believe it?

Not only did that make it look like th'case'n'me were "connected," y'might say, but it slowed me down.

I keep in really good shape, like I said. So even at sixty-three, I could usually outrun a couple o'middle-aged cops. On a good day, anyway.

But as y'may o'noticed, this wasn't a particularly good day f'me!

I dunno which one caught up t'me first -- ignore th'crap Hollywood churns out, y'never turn around when you're bein' chased -- but he tackled me like a NFL pro. I went down hard'n'smacked my head on th'pavement... and blacked out.

Part Four -- The Grill

I woke up sittin' on a metal chair, an' cuffed to a long table in a room I'd seen more'n my share of over the years. I even recognized the guy who handed me a cold coffee when I opened my eyes. Known 'im since he was a rookie. No kiddin'.

"Hey, Lefty..."

"Officer Kyle? Long time, kid. I see this room got another paint job."

"Here," he said, pushin' the coffee closer t'me. "You'd better drink this. You'll need to have your wits about you. You're in big trouble this time, Lefty!"

"Nahh, don't you fret, boychik. I got an explanation f'all o'this."

One of the two detectives who'd chased me down earlier was in th'room with me'n'Officer Kyle. I just hadn't noticed 'im. "Don't be too sure of that, southpaw," he said.

"Southpaw? Why'd you call me that?"

"It's what they call a left-handed pitcher in baseball."

"No! Really?" I said, sarcastic-like. "Look, you yutz, I know what a freakin' southpaw is! I was a Sandy Koufax fan when the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn. But I ain't no southpaw!"

His eyebrows kinda knitted together as he looked at the copy of my rap sheet which was sittin' on the clipboard he was holdin'. "Then why the hell do they...? Oh. Allen Lefcowicz. Got it."

He studied my little resumé for a few secs, then dropped th'clipboard on th'table I was cuffed to. "So, what makes a small-time career criminal graduate to murder, Allen?" I sat silent for a bit, cuz I didn't have no lawyer there yet. The detective smiled liked he was readin' my mind. "Don't worry, that was just a rhetorical question, Allen. Nothing's official until your public defender arrives."

I couldn't keep my mouth shut, so I blurted out, "I didn't kill nobody! That dumb schvartze ran into an oncoming car! And don't freakin' call me Allen. Only people who knew me as a little pisher coulda got away with that, shmendrick!"

Th'guy came around t'my side of the table an' kicked the freakin' chair right out from under me. I was still cuffed t'the table, o'course, so I couldn't break my fall too good, an' landed hard. He bent down so we were face t'face, and his voice was like freakin' thunder in my ears. "I wasn't talking about the homeless man, Lefcowicz! I was talking about the man whose arm you severed, you sick little freak! And just for the record, yutz and shmendrick aren't going to cut it with me! It's Detective Streimekis to you, loudmouth! You hear me?"

"Yeah, I hear ya. An' you're breathin' in my face." He stepped away. "Well, help me up, willya?"

"Help yourself up, Lefcowicz." He glared at Kyle, who was gonna assist me, from th'looks o'things. "And don't you go near him, officer," he warned.

I picked up th'chair -- an' myself -- an' tried t'recapture a little bit o'dignity. "Streimekis, huh?" He nodded. "Lemme guess: Litvak?"

"Yup. Third generation Lithuanian Jew. Something to say about it?"

"Nope," I said, sitting down.

"Okay, here's what we've put together: For some reason -- and we're thinking robbery -- you decided to kill some old Jewish man... a Holocaust survivor, no less, you lousy...! We don't have an ID on him yet, but since you were so kind as to provide us with several fingerprints..." He laughed at his own little joke. "Anyway, keeping the arm was pretty stupid, don't you think?"

"Look, y'got this all wrong..."

"Shut up, Lefcowicz, I'm not done. That poor black guy somehow got the opportunity to steal the suitcase, and kept ahead of you for at least two days. And when one of our guys spotted a tramp with a pricey-looking suitcase, we decided to watch him as much as possible until the true owner showed up to reclaim his property. Which you did. So we didn't know of your involvement until you finally tracked down the guy who stole your grisly little souvenir, and chased him into traffic. So, Lefcowicz... Did you kill the old guy for his money? It would sure explain how you were able to afford the fancy digs advertised by the key in your suit pocket. Quite a notch above your usual accommodations, according to a few of the officers here. It'd explain the suit, too, for that matter." He inhaled and exhaled loudly. "Did I leave anything out?"

"Nope. Everythin's there. Course, s'all bullshit, but..." He looked like he was gonna come 'round th'table again an'smack me one, but he didn't. "Look, I paid f'th'hotel room and th'suit with dough I won at th'track a few nights ago." The detective chuckled, and even Officer Kyle smirked. "Look, guys, trust me on this one..."

That
got a big laugh.

Part Five -- The Punchline

Like I said, all that was a couple o'days ago. My lawyer strikes me as bein' a total putz, so I ain't feelin' too good about this at all.

You prob'ly wonder why I'm takin' this bum rap so well, ain'tcha? Well, remember when I said "I ain't never done nothin' real bad," an' then added, "Well... almost never?"

Quite a few years back, I robbed a guy of twenty-three dollars in an alley... an' unfortunately, I hit 'im too freakin' hard on the back of th'head with a pipe... and he died. An' no one ever came after me f'that, so I guess this is karma's way of havin' a nosh at the expense of my tuchus.

Author's note: Regardless of whether or not "Lefty" Lefcowicz's public defender was a putz, Lefty was acquitted of all but a few minor charges. He learned his lesson and became a productive member of society.

Yeah, right. You didn't really believe that second sentence, did you?

* * * * *

This story is dedicated to Will Elder, Harvey Kurtzman, Al Feldstein, Allan Sherman, Don Rickles, and countless additional Jewish comedians and comic book creators who gave me an appreciation for Yiddishkeit years before I ever heard the word.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

"For Baby (For Bobbie)" -- Part Three, 1974



Ohhh, my. It's a long one this time, fellow babies!

Previously: The year is 1974. Robert "Eli" Whitney, sexually-overactive high school senior, is somewhat pressured by circumstances into taking an unpopular albeit attractive sophomore named Karen Hoffman -- known as "Boris Karloff" or simply "Karloff" for no reason other than the fact that high school kids are predominately vicious little creeps -- to a John Denver concert.

The two get along relatively well, considering the fact that Eli, basically, is an obnoxious jerk. Most of the time, anyway.

* * * * *

Since the John Denver concert, Karen and Eli hadn't really spoken to each other except for brief hellos and an occasional "How's it going?" when they passed in the hallways at school. So Karen was moderately surprised the day she closed her locker door at the end of the school day and saw that Eli had been standing behind it.

"Whoa!" she exclaimed. "Don't do that!"

He laughed. "Scared you, huh?"

"Well... startled me, maybe. Anyway, what's up?"

"I was wondering if you'd like a ticket to my graduation next month."

"Is this a joke?"

"No. We get five tickets, and I have one left over."

"And you have no friends? I doubt that."

"Of course I have friends. But all my friends are going to be graduating with me, goofy!"

"Oh, come on! You don't have any friends who are underclassmen, like me? I thought you were popular."

"I am... kind of. But that's not exactly the same thing as having real friends. If that makes any sense."

"It does, sadly enough. But... How about all those chicks you date... or whatever verb you use to describe what you do with them."

"Very funny. Can... Can I be honest with you?"

Karen laughed. "Only if you want to shock the crap out of me."

"Why do you keep making wisecracks!"

"The best defense is a good offense, they say."

"Huh?"

"Just trying to beat you to the insults, for a change."

"Look, I'm trying to be nice, here!" said Eli. He quickly looked around to see if anyone had heard him, but realized immediately that most of the other students had already left the building. "For a change," he admitted, echoing her words.

Karen looked around at the hallway as Eli had, seeing that it was now empty, but for the two of them. "Great. You made me miss my bus... again."

"Big deal. I'll give you a ride... again."

They began walking toward the exit. "So," continued Karen, "Why not invite someone in your family?"

"I did."

"And they said no?"

"No, of course not. They all said yes."

"You're not trying to tell me you've only got four people in your whole family! What about aunts and uncles and..."

"Yes, I am telling you that. All I have is my parents, and two cousins. That's it." Eli noticed that they were approaching the door to the parking lot. "Here comes the door. Don't dislocate your shoulder this time."

"Very funny. That was months ago."

"So? How am I supposed to know you don't do it on a regular basis?"

Karen laughed, in spite of herself. "I guess you don't. Hey... what about your cousins' parents?"

"They're dead."

"Oh, I'm sorry."

"Why do people always say that?" Eli snapped, almost angrily. "Why are you sorry? You didn't kill them!" He looked over and saw that she was staring at him because of his outburst. He tried to lighten things up a bit. "I mean, you didn't, did you?"

"That's not funny! I'll never understand how anyone can joke about something like the death of a loved one."

"I wouldn't exactly say I loved them. We weren't close. I was pretty young when their house burned down."

"Their house... ? Oh, no, that's awful."

"I guess so. Just don't say you're sorry about that."

"Are you kidding this time?"

"What do you think?"

"I can't tell with you."

"Anyway, I don't have any 'loved ones.' I mean, I don't use that... term."

"What term? Love?"

"Mm-hmm. I don't use it."

"Sure you do. Everybody does. Don't you ever say you love a movie, or an album, or..."

"Oh, that way? Sure. But I don't say 'love' like... like..."

"Like normal people do?"

"Very funny. I was going to say, like other people do. I've never said 'I love you' to anyone."

"Not even when you were trying to get some girl into bed?"

"Don't start, Karl-- Karen."

"Sorry. But... You love your parents, right?"

"I don't know. Maybe."

"You don't know?"

They'd arrived at Eli's car. He walked to the driver's side, unlocked his door, and threw the keys high into the air in an arc which brought them down on Karen's side of Eli's Plymouth. As they fell, Karen looked into the sun and tried -- unsuccessfully -- to spot them before they could land on the ground near her. "Whitney, you're a turd!" she yelled, bending to pick them off the pavement.

"Don't you forget it," he said, from inside the car.

"I can't! You keep reminding me!" She unlocked the door, got into the car, and handed Eli the keys.

The drive to Karen's home was uneventful, mostly filled with small talk from Karen about how "lucky" Eli was to be graduating and "getting out of this dump," as Karen put it.

When they got to Karen's home, Karen actually "allowed" Eli to pull into the driveway. And she agreed to take Eli's fifth ticket.

He in turn actually gave her a straight compliment. "Oh, and I was right about you!" he called out to her as she stepped onto her front porch. "You look cuter now that you're letting your hair get longer."

She didn't bother telling him that his earlier comment was the reason why she was letting it grow out to begin with.

* * * * *

Eli graduated on an absolutely gorgeous evening in early May.

After Eli's graduation -- that is, immediately after -- Eli introduced Karen to his cousins and his parents, and then shrugged off their invitation to attend a private party at home in favor of going to a predictably larger bash at Teddy Wilson's house.

As Eli walked to his car, he realized that he was being followed. He stopped and turned around, only to find that it was Karen. "Umm... Hi. What's up?"

"I need a ride."

"Why?"

"Why? Because my parents brought me here, dropped me off, and left. They couldn't get into the ceremony. No tickets." Eli was staring at her. "What did you expect them to do, wait in the parking lot for two hours?"

"I guess not. Okay, sure, I can give you a ride home."

"I don't want to go home."

"Well... I'm going to Teddy's party."

"Okay."

"Okay what?"

"I'm up for that."

"Who says you're invited?"

"He's back to normal..." she muttered. "Couldn't I get in if you bring me?" He seemed to be thinking about it. "Just as a friend? I mean, you know, not like a date. God forbid."

"Yeah, that would work."

"I mean, you're not ashamed to be seen with me?"

"Don't start that crap again. It's not like I have anything against you. In fact, in between the insults..."

"Is there an 'in between' to the insults?"

"Sure. Look, Karen, you're the closest thing I've got to a friend, in terms of chicks, anyway. I can't really talk to girls, usually." He saw a smirk play across her face. "Don't say it," he warned, only half-kiddingly. Then they both laughed.

As they entered Teddy's house -- well, Teddy's parents' house -- Teddy himself greeted them. He looked at Eli first, then at Karen with obvious surprise. She immediately became defensive and said "It's okay, Wilson, I'm with Eli. But not as his date."

Teddy shrugged, saying "I don't care what the hell you are," before looking away from her and back at Eli. Karen realized with some surprise that his comment, disdainful as it was on the surface, was also "permission" to stay.

"You want a beer?" Teddy asked Eli.

"Got Schlitz?"

"Just Miller, or Michelob."

"Is it cold?"

"Of course."

"Either will do." Eli looked at Karen. "You want a beer?"

Before she could answer, Teddy said, "If you'd rather have some kind of sissy girlie drink, my mother's downstairs fixing sloe gin fizzes for most of the chicks."

"Well... In spite of the way you said that... I think I'll have a sissy girlie drink."

Teddy pointed to a doorway in the next room. "That's the door to the cellar. Stairs are kind of steep; don't fall."

Karen began walking away, as Teddy and Eli headed toward the kitchen. Eli called out to her. "And try not to puke on anybody!"

Karen ignored him and opened the door. She was greeted by music -- "Street Fighting Man" by The Rolling Stones -- which assaulted her from the darkness below. She walked downstairs. Not far from the end of the staircase was a fancy, well-stocked bar. Judging from that and the elegantly-decorated basement, Teddy's parents evidently took their entertaining -- and their drinking -- very seriously. Behind the bar sat a plump, cheerful, bleached-blonde woman -- Teddy's mother -- who jumped off her wooden stool as Karen approached.

"What can I getcha, sweetie?" asked Mrs. Wilson.

"Umm... a sloe gin fizz," answered Karen, trying to toss the request out as if she'd been ordering sloe gin fizzes for years... and failing miserably.

Mrs. Wilson squinted. "How old are you, honey?"

Karen decided to be honest. "I'm... I'm... uhh... sixteen."

"Sorry, sweetie, didn't hear ya. You said eighteen?"

"No... I..."

"Eighteen... Right, babycakes?"

Karen finally caught on and nodded. "Yes! Eighteen!"

Mrs. Wilson mixed the drink and handed it to Karen. "Good girl! Everybody here's at least eighteen tonight, ya know?"

Karen thanked the older woman for the drink, and walked away toward the far side of the room, sipping her drink through a straw. Now what was she supposed to do? Should she go upstairs and search for Eli? She didn't think it wise to remain down here. It would have been bad enough if she hadn't known anyone at the party. This was worse. She did know most of the kids, and liked none of them. Why had she talked Eli into bringing her along?

Even as Karen was asking herself this question in her mind, she heard a familiar voice.

"Ohhh... myyy... Gawwwd!" said a high-pitched, slurred voice that Karen immediately recognized. It was Wendy Taylor, one of Denise Nealon's crowd. Wendy was tall and buxom; her long, frizzy hair was that very light shade of brown sometimes referred to as "dirty blonde."

"Are they filmin' a horror movie here?" asked Wendy, speaking to no one in particular.

"Ahhh, c'mon, don't start, Wendy," said another young woman, one of the two dozen or so teens who stood or sat there in the basement.

"Mind your own business, Cheryl," said Wendy, walking right over to Karen. "How did you get in here, Karloff? Through the doggie door?"

Karen held her glass in both hands, fingers intertwined, sipping quickly and nervously at her drink. Karen's eyes discreetly looked across the room. Teddy's mother wasn't looking in her direction, and The Rolling Stones did their part to ensure that Mrs. Wilson couldn't hear the commotion.

Then things got worse. Teddy's mother abruptly left her place behind the bar and walked upstairs without a backward glance.

With her left hand, Wendy reached out and slapped Karen's hands just hard enough to slosh a little of the sloe gin fizz over the rim of the glass. "Hey, I asked you a question, Boris!"

"Why don't you get the heck away from me," Karen said, her voice trembling.

"You little punk!" spat Wendy, slamming the heel of her palm into Karen's chest. It hurt. Karen realized that her back was literally against the wall at this point. She also noticed that Wendy --who was on both the girl's basketball and field hockey teams -- was half a head taller than Karen was, and about thirty pounds heavier.

"Leave the kid alone, Wen!" another girl said.

Wendy didn't look away from Karen, as she wound her hand into Karen's dark blue silk blouse. "I thought I told you to shut up, Cheryl."

Cheryl, part of the crowd which was gathering around the two antagonists, replied, "I didn't say that. That was Daphne. But I think you should let her go, too."

Wendy laughed. "Who cares what you bimbos think? There isn't any one o'you who's strong enough to stop me from redecoratin' this mouthy little tramp's face!"

"Don't be so sure, Wendy," said a voice far too deep to be either Cheryl's or Daphne's. Wendy turned around and saw that it was Eli. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" he asked, but he didn't wait for an answer. "Take your grubby paws off of her."

"And if I don't?" she demanded defiantly.

"I'll punch you right in the mouth. You think you're tough, don't you? Well, if you want to act like a guy, I'll treat you like a guy."

Wendy felt a chill. She didn't know whether Eli's threat was serious or not. Neither did anyone else in the crowd.

"Whadda you care what happens to her?" Wendy asked, even as she released Karen's blouse from her grasp.

"Karen's with me."

Wendy laughed. "She's your date?"

Karen spoke up. "I'm not his date!"

Eli looked pointedly at Karen. "You didn't have to say that! I don't care what the hell Wendy thinks." He looked back at Wendy. "Karen's my friend, not that it's any of your damned business."

A dirty smirk formed on Wendy's face even as Karen darted around her and positioned herself behind Eli. "Oh, I get it. Workin' on the underclassmen now, Eli? I didn't think you'd already gotten to all of the juniors and seniors!"

"No, Wendy. Not all of them. Quite a few, though... including you, of course. What was it... five, six times?"

Wendy turned almost as red as what was left of Karen's drink. One of the many witnesses to this verbal confrontation -- which by now included virtually all the party-goers in the cellar -- had turned down the stereo, so everyone had heard Eli's remarks.

"You don't even know?" said Wendy, in a much more timid voice than she'd spoken with during any other part of this evening.

Eli looked at her as he would something distasteful that he'd scraped from the bottom of his shoe. "I guess they just weren't all that memorable." He turned away from her and looked at Karen.

Wendy was humiliated and furious. "Don't you dare turn your back on me!"

He looked back only long enough to speak three short, sharp words to Wendy... two of which (the “F-word” and the “C-word”) Karen had certainly never heard him speak before tonight! And with that, he took Karen by the hand and led her upstairs.

They stayed among the upstairs celebrants only long enough to finish their drinks.

As Eli drove Karen home, she broke the uneasy silence by saying, "Don't you think you were a little hard on Wendy?"

Eli snorted. "You're welcome!"

"No, I just mean..."

"From the looks of things, she was ready to beat the stuffing out of you! I saved your neck! Show me some gratitude, will you?"

"Oh, I don't know if I was really in any danger..."

"For crying out loud, Karen, wake up! I've seen Wendy fight boys and win. She would have creamed you."

"Umm... That reminds me..."

"Reminds you of what?"

"You wouldn't really have punched her in the face, would you? Guys like that ... you know, guys who hit girls... they scare me. There's no excuse for--"

"Spare me the moralizing. I saved your ass, in plain English. So let's just drop it, okay?"

They were only silent for a couple of minutes before Eli asked, "You aren't really scared of me, are you?"

"No." She laughed. "Because we're friends. You said so yourself."

"Oh, geez... Look, don't go getting all gooshy on me."

"Okay, I won't. But you did call me your friend. And you did save my... behind. So thanks."

"You're welcome. But don't get used to it."

"Why not?"

"Because that's as good as I'll ever get."

And unfortunately... Eli was right.

The infamous "sloe gin fizz."

* * * * *

Next: Umm...

Oh, why spoil it?

Thanks for your time.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Vacation -- A "Theme Thursday" Post (REVISED)

A relatively short'n'goofy one this week. So it goes.

* * * * *

Five Celebrities Tell "What I Did On My Summer Vacation."


Clint Eastwood, age twelve (1942):

I went to summer camp this summer. I am ashamed to say that I wanted to get out of some of my daily chores, and I bullied one of the younger kids to help me. I didn't hurt him or nothing. I just pointed a loaded slingshot at him and said "I know what you're thinking — 'Can he hit me with that thing at this range?' Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I'm kinda unsure myself. But, being this is a slingshot, the most powerful weapon in this camp and would put your eye out, you've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?" He was scared, and said no. So I took him to my tent, brought him over to my bunk, and said, "Go ahead... Make my bed."

Steve Winwood, age seven (1955):

I had lots of fun this summer!

My family went camping. I couldn't get to sleep because there were frogs croaking in a nearby pond, and mosquitoes buzzing around me, and crickets chirping and owls hooting and stuff like that. I finally got so frustrated I sat up and yelled "Shut up!" My older brother Muff started laughing and said, "Stevie, that's the first time I ever heard of anybody talking back to the night!"

My brother Muff was there for me when I got a crush on a girl named Valerie who ended up not liking me back. He told me I should just roll with it.

Then there was the day I was swimming in our pool. Muff and some friends had formed a band and were playing in the backyard. I've always wanted to be a singer, so I asked a buddy who was in the pool with me if I should get out of the pool and try to sing with the older kids. He said "While you see a chance, take it," and I got out of the pool and ran to the microphone. Luckily, my dad yelled at me not to touch it (the mike, I mean) because I was all wet, and would get shocked. He was screaming, "Don't you know what the mike can do?"

Elvis Costello, age nine (1963):

I didn't do too good in school last year, and had to go to summer school. At first I was mad because I couldn't play with the other kids until the afternoon, but I decided to look on the bright side and write a song about it because that's what I want to do when I grow up. My song went like this: "Every day, every day, every day, every day I ride the bus..."

James Bond -- the character, not any actor who's ever portrayed him! -- age nine (year unknown, date of birth listed variously as 1913, 1920, 1925, etc.):

I spent my summer vacation avoiding all the icky bleached-blonde girls who were throwing themselves at me. I HATE girls! And every one I meet always has a stupid name, too! I can't wait until I'm old enough to get my licence. Then I can buy a souped-up sportscar of some kind and get away from them even faster!

Blondes! DUMB blondes!

Tom Petty, age five (1956):


I learnd to swim this sumer and wuz prity good at it. In fact I liked the swimming part better than walking into the
oshin
ocean itself because the waste-deep waist-deep wayves almost knocked me over.

The wading is the hardest part.

* * * * *

Ummm...yeah. Thanks for your time.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

"For Baby (For Bobbie)" -- Part Two, 1974



Last time: The year is 1974. Robert "Eli" Whitney, sexually-overactive high school senior, is somewhat pressured by circumstances into taking an unpopular albeit attractive sophomore named Karen Hoffman -- known as "Boris Karloff" or simply "Karloff" for no reason other than the fact that high school kids are predominately vicious little creeps -- to a John Denver concert.

That's all you get,
except for the following illustration of something which figures just prominently enough in the story to unnerve those of you who don't know what a "pushbutton transmission" is:

And if you're really interested in the car described in this storyline, you can view a version of it here
!

* * * * *

It was almost a fifty-mile drive to Boston, the site of the concert, but Eli's well-preserved 1964 Plymouth Fury was more than adequate for the task. He and Karen barely spoke, a fact which was glossed over by the portable 8-track player which rested on the seat between them, blaring out "John Denver's Greatest Hits." (Eli's car had only an AM radio.)

One of the few times either of them did talk to each other was when Karen questioned Eli's choice of music. "Why are you playing all the songs we're probably going to hear tonight anyway?" she asked.

"Cuz I like them, dummy."

"So do I, but we're going to hear every one of them at least once on our way. We might get sick of them."

"If you can get sick of them, you shouldn't be going to this concert!" He shook his head. "Man, I should have gotten a real date..."

"I didn't really mean I'd get sick of them..."

"Then you shouldn't have said that, idiot."

Karen suddenly made a strange, almost-inhuman sound of frustration. "Why do have to do that?"

"Do what?"

"Insult me like that all the time! 'Dummy.' 'Idiot.' What did I ever do to you?"

"Nothing... It's just the way I talk."

"Well, it stinks, and anyway... that's no excuse."

"Sorry. Geez! I didn't mean anything by it."

"Then you shouldn't have said that... idiot," she said, repeating his earlier words to her.

He laughed at that, in spite of himself. Then the two fell silent.

At the concert's start, John Denver shouted "Hello, Boston!" which naturally got applause. "Shining pearl of the East..." A mild laugh from the crowd. "Home of the Bruins and the Celtics..." Even heartier applause than his opener. "Gateway to... South Boston." That got the laugh he was presumably expecting.

For Karen and Eli, the rest of the concert was pleasingly predictable, except for a welcome surprise when Denver and his back-up band played "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."

On their way home, the two began talking about the concert they'd just left. At last, they seemed to have something in common.

"I don't know what it was, exactly," said Eli, "but there was something really cool about Denver's bass player."

"Oh, Dick Kniss? Sure, he's been with John for years. He's backed up Peter, Paul, and Mary, too, on a lot of their stuff."

"Peter, Paul, and Mary?" Eli replied, with a tone of voice that Karen immediately found offensive.

"Yeah. Something wrong with them?"

"Not if you like folk music..."

"What would you call John if not folk music?"

"I love the way you say 'John' like he's your buddy."

"Well, he feels like a friend sometimes."

"Anyway, he's not folk, he's... country rock."

"He's not country!"

"Not like that twangy shit... I mean, stuff, sorry... but country rock."

"Folk rock, maybe, like... ohh... Simon and Garfunkel."

"You can't compare John Denver to Simon and Garfunkel!"

"So says the musical expert who doesn't even read the credits on albums!"

"Who says I don't?"

"I do! Otherwise you would have known the name Dick Kniss." Eli didn't reply. "You don't read them, do you?"

"No," he said defensively. "Why should I?"

"So you can hold up your end of a stupid conversation with..." She trailed off, as a certain realization struck her. "I guess you don't usually have to talk to your dates."

"You're not my date, dummy."

"You know what I meant. All those chicks you date are just there for one thing. And it's not conversation." She paused, adding "I guess they're right about you," under her breath, but not so softly that Eli didn't hear her.

"Up yours, Karloff! Whether I date two chicks, or twenty, and what I do with them when I date them, is none of your business!"

"More like twenty..."

"Look, you'd better keep your mouth shut."

"Oh, yeah? Why?"

"Cuz it's a long walk home for you from here." His mind suddenly flashed on a much earlier conversation with her. "No 'put out or get out,' either. Just get out!"

"You wouldn't do that to me, dump me off on the turnpike. I'd get arrested if the state police saw me, and raped or worse if somebody else came after me."

Eli took his eyes off the road briefly enough to look at Karen. He was about to make an extremely insulting comment to the effect of "Who'd even want to rape you?" but overruled his obnoxious tendencies, for once.

Instead of speaking, Eli reached for the 8-track player and inserted the "John Denver's Greatest Hits" tape. "Is it okay if I play this?" he asked Karen, with only a slight sarcastic edge in his voice. "Wouldn't want to make you sick, or anything."

She smiled. "You won't. Huh! You sure calmed down in a hurry."

"I'm like that sometimes. Hey, do me a favor?"

"What?"

"Reach in that cooler in the back seat, and get me a beer?"

"You brought beer to the concert?" she asked, shocked.

"Well, not to the concert, exactly, but... So what? I'm old enough!" (The legal drinking age in Massachusetts at the time was eighteen. Eli was eighteen. Life was good.)

Karen draped herself over the back of the car seat and lifted the lid of a styrofoam cooler. Eli characteristically checked out her butt. "Why didn't you drink on the way to the show?" she asked, as she reached into the icy water and took out a can of Schlitz.

"Are you nuts? I spend ten dollars per ticket, I'm not going to get so drunk I can't remember it." Karen handed the beer to Eli. "Thanks. You want one?"

"Ummm... okay," she said, leaning over the seat once again in order to get a can for herself. And Eli glanced over to check out her butt again.

For the rest of the time they were on the turnpike, Eli and Karen didn't talk. They just drank.

By the time they'd gotten to her house, Eli had consumed three cans of Schlitz, and was comfortably "buzzed." Karen was still working on her second, and she was completely drunk.

When she saw that Eli was approaching her home, Karen panicked. "Don't bring me home!" she screamed.

"What? Why not?"

"Are you kidding? If I walk in sloshed, my parents will kill me."

"Well, what the hell am I supposed to do with you? Drive around until you sober off?" He drove past her house, then looked over at her. She was noticeably intoxicated. "That could take months."

"I'm going to be sick."

"Do you mean that literally, or..."

"I'm going to be sick!"

"Not in my car!" Eli yelled, pulling off the road and stopping. His Plymouth had a pushbutton transmission. He moved the "park" lever downward, taking the car out of gear. "Get out! Quick!"

"Where's the door handle?" she slurred.

"Oh, God...! Roll down your window, then!"

She nodded, saying, "Sure. Where's the cranky thing?"

Now it was Eli's turn to panic. He leaned across the seat. Actually, he leaned across Karen, as well. His left hand found the door handle that had been so elusive for Karen, and his right hand gripped her left forearm tightly. As the car door swung open, Karen tumbled outward (but not all the way out, thanks to Eli) and just in time. Two cans of beer and whatever she'd had for supper exited rudely from her mouth and splattered into the bushes.

Eli was sprawled across Karen. Karen didn't move for a moment, but instead gloried in the cool night breezes that played across her face. Then she realized that Eli was more or less on top of her. "You can stop pawing me now."

"Pawing you?"

"Well, you're on top of me!"

"That's to keep you from rolling out of the car and landing in your own puke!"

"Okay. Thank you. Now let me up?"

Eli sat up and re-positioned himself behind the driver's seat. Karen straightened up as well. He looked at her, cautiously. "Are you going to throw up again?"

She looked outside -- she hadn't closed the car door yet -- and said, "I don't think I have anything left."

"Very funny. Now close your door," he said, raising the "park" lever and pushing the "drive" button on the car's dashboard. She closed the door as he steered back onto the road.

After only a few minutes of silence, she said, "I guess I spoiled your little plan, huh?"

"What plan? What are you talking about?"

"Well, you obviously planned to get me drunk, and that worked, but my getting sick wasn't on the menu, was it?"

"What are you talking about?" he repeated. "Did you think I was going to...?" He glared at her. "You did, didn't you? I mean, you do, or... I don't know what I mean!" he sputtered.

"Well, it's kind of hard to take advantage of someone when she's puking her guts out..."

"Look, you, I have had it with all these accusations. You don't know me at all. Now I am bringing you home." Suiting the action to the word, he looped around at a wide point in the back road they were on and began driving back to Karen's house.

"Wait a second! Wait a second! What about my parents?"

"That's not my problem."

"Don't be a jerk!"

"Jerk. Right." He shook his head, angrily. "You know something?"

"What?"

"Maybe I shouldn't insult you as much as I do, but your way of insulting me is even worse!"

"Huh?"

"You keep insulting me based on nothing but what other people have told you. That makes you just as bad as all those snobs who call you Karloff."

Karen thought about what Eli had said for the rest of the drive to her home. Before she got out, she admitted, "You were right about my misjudging you. You can be kind of rude and all, so I should just stick to the first-hand stuff like that."

"Is that supposed to be some kind of apology?"

She opened the car door and stepped out. "Yeah, I guess it is. And thanks for bringing me to the concert, too. Hey! I never paid you for my ticket!"

"Don't worry about it. My treat. I feel like I owe you for all my wisecracks. You know, calling you dummy and idiot, and Karloff, and everything." He smiled at her and mouthed "See ya!" as she closed the door.

He'd surprised her by refusing the money for the ticket.

And Eli surprised Karen once again about a month later, when he asked her if she'd like a different kind of ticket, this time one to attend his high school graduation.

To Be Continued...


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Excerpt from "Jack" -- A Theme Thursday Post

Today's Theme Thursday topic is "(Wh)oops." For the full, somewhat intriguing story of how that topic came to be, click here, and then here.

What follows is a segment of a story called "Jack," which I co-wrote with my former writing partner, a talented writer and even more talented cartoonist named Skip Simpson.

I'll spare you the intricate details of the project's genesis, but basically it boiled down to this: One night circa 1982, I was paradoxically bored and inspired while visiting Skip. Suddenly, I sat down at the typewriter -- remember them, fellow babies? -- and wrote about a page and a half of... stuff. I handed it to Skip to read.

After reading it, and noticing that it ended with a mini-cliffhanger, Skip looked at me and said, "Okay, now what?"

I replied, "Now it's your turn."

Skip added about as much as I had written before him, leaving me with a cliffhanger.

We handed the story back and forth this way until we'd completed "Jack," which ended up being about seventeen pages long.


So today's entry, as stated above, is just one section of the whole, and naturally (because it's here, on my blog), it's one of the sections which I wrote. Not Skip!

The setting: The summer cottage of John Sylvester "Jack" Parmenter. Jack is wallowing in self-pity sometime after being dumped by his girlfriend, Arlene... a break-up due in part to the influence of her obnoxious brother, Bernie.

And in keeping with today's theme, it kinda/sorta
starts with an "oops." And it kinda/sorta ends with an "oops." I hope you enjoy it... kinda/sorta.

Other than that, I only need to add the following incidental comments:

1. At several times during the story, Jack receives phone calls from people asking for "Roland." (Jack doesn't know anyone named Roland.)
2. At this point in the tale, Jack has just made a disastrous attempt at preparing a supper of Spam. Don't ask.
3. You'll probably notice the constant use of the term "damn," or a variable. That was a running
schtick between Skip and myself which seemed a lot funnier then than it does now.

* * * * *

Shaken and more than a bit exhausted, Jack made his way back to his study, the study with the thick shag rug upon which he had so callously thrown his last cigarette more than half an hour ago. No Arlene, no Spam, no Marlboros... What else was left? Not even Bernie, for that matter, not even damnable Bernie.

Jack leaned against the study table, reminiscing about when he and Arlene, in a moment of idealistic romantic fantasy, had planned to marry and buy a beach house, one with a large picture window overlooking the sea. In his mind's eye, Jack could not only see that picture window, but could see through it. He envisioned Arlene strolling arm-in-arm with... Bernie, walking along the shore on a sticky summer night, barely visible but for the orange dot of Bernie's ever-present Marlboro in the distance.

Unfortunately, Jack's cozy little three-room cottage, which he had bought after recognizing his occasional need to get away from it all, was situated in the backwoods of Connecticut. Therefore all of Jack's meandering thoughts were reduced to pure bull-feathers, best left to screenwriters in search of time-consuming visuals rather than plot.

Abruptly, Jack found his attention riveted to the floor, or more precisely, the carpet, which had smoldered for roughly forty-five minutes and had now, finally, burst into flame. Evidently, he had not fully extinguished that last cigarette, as he had thought. "Damn!" he shrieked, as he realized that the aforementioned "getting away from it all" had insured only that there wasn't any water available in his cozy little shack.

Or wasn't there?

After a few moments' deliberation, Jack thought of the nearby fishing pond he so enjoyed. By that time, however, he'd been backed up against his study table. The phone was within reach, but by the time he could summon the fire department, he knew it would be too late.

Where could he find liquid, any kind of liquid? Ah-HAH! he thought, perhaps the sparsely-stocked liquor cabinet, conveniently located beside the study table? Hopefully, he hadn't polished off all of his expensive stock while wallowing in self-pity.

He rushed to the liquor cabinet, which also contained his small but valuable assortment of collector's item LPs. First he found the bottle of Dom Perignon champagne he'd bought in a nearby village and brown-bagged for breakfast. Empty. Damn! Quickly, he checked the other bottles in his small but high-priced collection. Irish Mist, empty; Chivas Regal, empty; Seagram's Crown Royal, empty; Chateau Mouton-Rothschild '29, empty; Tango, empty! Now, the entire cabinet was empty, and the only nearby portion of floor not yet burning was covered by discarded bottles. Jack leaped onto the study table. The closes door was ten feet away, separated from Jack by a roaring sheet of flame. Was there even a slim hope for survival, he wondered desperately?

The telephone rang. "Damn!" exclaimed Jack, reaching down to grab it.

"Hi," said a cheerful voice. "This is Roland. Any messages for me?"

"Yeah, some guy called earlier." Jack could feel the flames licking at the soles of his bare feet. The smoke grew thicker.

"Well, who was it?"

"I don't have the slightest idea. I didn't know him." Jack thought for a moment, then added, "I don't know you, either, for that matter!"

"Oh, yeah? Well, up yours, Jack!" said Roland angrily, before hanging up.

How did he know my name, Jack wondered. Suddenly, his attention was brought rudely back to the towering inferno now threatening life, limb, and record collection. He had to take action now.

One slim hope existed, decided Jack: the snow on the roof! It could extinguish the blaze. From atop his study table, Jack studied the study. Although he himself was surrounded by the fire, most of the rest of the room was as yet unscathed.

He grabbed his dictionary from the study table, weighed it carefully in his hand, frowned, put it down, and reached instead for his Thesaurus. Testing it, he decided it was perfect for what he had in mind. Taking careful aim, he hurled the Thesaurus at his large framed print of Norman Rocckwell's little-known version of The Last Supper, where Jesus and all twelve apostles smiled brightly as the turkey was brought to the table.

Just as Jack had intended, the book hit dead center, causing the print to fall to the mantel below. The sudden jolt knocked the imitation marble mantelpiece off of the fireplace, crashing to the floor and knocking over the cheap metal cart holding Jack's croquet set.

A red wooden ball rolled from the overturned cart and across the floor, nudging the brass coat rack forward a few inches, where it struck the ornate molding and fell over, slamming against the study window. As the window shattered, a stray piece of glass flew across the room and onto the hair trigger of Jack's shotgun, which Bernie had carelessly propped up against the side of Jack's favorite rocking chair.

The shotgun fired a deafening blast into the ceiling, causing a great hole to appear even as plaster and chips of wood rained down upon the blazing study. But no snow.

Jack suddenly realized that since it was August, there was no snow on the roof.

Damn.

* * * * *

"Damn," indeed! Or, if you prefer, "(wh)oops."

Thanks for your time.

P.S. ~~ Okay, okay, suffice it to say that Jack didn't die. Skip explained that Jack had taken an elective college course in Native American Rituals, y'see... so Jack did a little table-top rain dance which saved his life. Happy now?

("Jack" copyright © 1982 David M. Lynch and Andrew G. Simpson.)

Monday, May 11, 2009

"For Baby (For Bobbie)" -- Part One, 1974



There's no actual introduction this time around, fellow babies!

No, really! You're on your own.


* * * * *


Ever since Robert Whitney had transferred to his new high school and almost immediately been nicknamed "Eli" by an upperclassman, only the members of his small family -- his mom, dad, and two orphaned cousins -- called him anything but Eli.

They -- his family -- called him "Bobby" or "Bob."

Not that it mattered.

One afternoon, during his senior year of high school -- in the Spring of 1974, to be exact -- Eli was standing outside of his homeroom, arguing with his best friend Teddy. The students had just been dismissed for the day.

"Twenty dollars? For two lousy concert tickets? Are you nuts, Teddy?"

Teddy, a pale-skinned, portly youth with a dark brown "Afro" and the beginnings of what might someday be called a mustache, merely shrugged. "Try getting them somewhere else, Eli."

"That's twice what they're going for. You can't screw your best buddy like this."

"Let's not start name-calling. They were going for five bucks each. But the concert's in less than a week, and now they're unavailable. Unless you know me." Teddy grinned, not realizing that the ordinarily passive Eli was dangerously close to punching him in the face.

Suddenly, a diminutive, dark-haired sophomore whom Teddy and Eli recognized as Karen Hoffman -- derisively referred to as "Boris Karloff" among the so-called "popular people" -- stepped between the two, facing Teddy. "Are you Teddy Wilson, the guy with the John Denver tickets?"

Teddy and Eli were both literally a head taller than Karen. Teddy stared into Eli's blue eyes pointedly as he replied to the attractive underclassman. "I could be."

"Bastard," Eli muttered under his breath. He put his hands on Karen's shoulders. "Sorry, Karloff, no tickets for you!"

Without turning around, Karen said, "Get your crummy hands off me, blondie," referring to Eli's shoulder-length, wavy blonde hair. "And don't call me Karloff."

Eli removed his hands from Karen's shoulders. "Oh, yeah? Well, don't you call me blondie... Karloff!" He pulled his wallet out of his unzipped gym bag. "Here you go, you thief," he said, withdrawing two wrinkled ten dollar bills from the wallet and handing them to Teddy. "I hope you choke on them. And I still say it's a gyp! For ten bucks a ticket you could get the damned Beatles back together!"

Teddy grinned. "Or maybe the Jimi Hendrix Experience?"

"Hendrix is dead, stupid."

Teddy walked away, waving the two bills in the air. "For this kinda moola, who knows?"

A furious Eli stood there, shaking his head and talking to himself. "That's right, rub my nose in it, you rotten..."

"Hey!" yelled Karen. "Don't tell me you just bought the last Denver tickets he had."

"Yup." He began walking away from her.

"I want those tickets," she said, following him as he headed down the long corridor, toward the nearest exit.

"Good for you. How's it feel to want?"

"I'll pay you twenty dollars for them," she offered, walking next to him, crab-like, on his right.

He didn't even look at her. "That's what I just paid, dummy."

"Okay, thirty for both of them."

He slowed a bit, but still didn't look at her. "You're screwy."

"Forty, then!"

"Oh, come on, don't be a jerk. You don't have that kind of money."

"I can... I can get it."

"How? You're just a punk kid. Do you even have a job?"

The fact that he was even still talking to her encouraged her. She decided there was a possibility of winning him over with humor. "Maybe I'll become a prostitute and sell my body."

That did make Eli laugh, but not exactly in the way Karen had intended. "You could never be a prostitute!"

"I was only kidding anyway, stupid, but... why not?"

He was still laughing as he neared the open door to the student parking lot. "Because you could never survive on two dollars a month!"

Karen was still awkwardly walking sideways. "Very funny!" She suddenly slammed into the wall beside the open door with her right shoulder. She screamed, and several students on either side of the exit laughed.

"Shut the hell up, you goons!" yelled Eli into the air, at no one in particular and everyone in general. He put his right hand on Karen's uninjured left shoulder. "You okay, there, Clumsy Carp?"

"Clumsy Carp?" Karen said, with a very weak voice.

"He's a caveman in a comic strip called B.C." Karen stared at him. "Never mind! Are you okay? You going to live?"

"I think my shoulder's broken, or dislocated, or... something."

"Oh, come on. You're not hurt that bad! And if it was broken, you'd know it."

"So much for caring about whether I'm hurt. Dink."

"How you getting home?"

"I missed the bus haggling over those stupid tickets. I guess I walk."

"I can give you a ride."

"You're kidding, right?"

"No. What makes you say that?"

"Sure you want to be seen with me? With Boris Karloff?"

"I already am being seen with you," Eli replied. "My reputation's already shot to hell," he joked.

He escorted her to his car, a light blue 1964 Plymouth Fury. She walked up to the locked passenger-side front door and stood there expectantly. Eli walked to his own driver's-side front door, unlocked it, and tossed the keys to Karen across the roof of the car.

She caught the keys. "So much for the gentleman opening the door for me," she said, just loud enough for him to hear.

"Why, are both your arms broken? This isn't a date, turkey. Get in!"

As soon as Karen was seated, she lowered her passenger-side visor to see if there was a vanity mirror attached -- there was -- and she removed various make-up items from her pocketbook.

"What are you doing?" asked Eli.

"Touching up my face."

He was about to say something sarcastic, but stopped. What he did say was "Hey, can I ask you something?"

"I guess."

"Why do they call you Karloff? I mean.... you aren't ugly, really."

"Wow. Thanks for the rave review."

"Just answer the stupid question?"

"You know Denise Nealon, right?"

"Ummm.... yeah."

"Oh, let me guess, you've dated her?"

"None of your business."

"That's a yes..." she muttered. "Anyway, she was making fun of me with some of her hoity-toity cheerleader friends when I was a freshman, calling me stupid, and ugly, and she took the K-A-R from Karen and the 'Hoff' sound from Hoffman..."

"That's pretty clever."

"Thanks a lot."

"No, I just meant.... I mean, that's smarter than I'd give her credit for, usually."

"My mom used to tell me I looked like an actress on TV..."

"Who? Lassie?" Karen's eyes opened wide. "Just kidding!" he added quickly.

"No, smartie. This girl on the TV show Apple's Way that was on a couple of years ago. You ever see it?"

"No. I almost never watch TV."

"Oh. Well, it wasn't on long, anyway. But my mom said I looked like her." (The actress in question was Kristy McNichol, later of Family and Empty Nest. And truth be told, Karen did resemble her a bit, but Karen's face was much rounder.)

"Oh," said Eli, sounding disappointed. "I thought maybe you were a horror movie fan, or something. Are you?"

"No. Are you?"

"Sure."

"Figures."

"You'd look kinda cute if you let your hair grow past your shoulders. Shiny black hair like yours looks good when it's really long."

"Did you actually just say I'd look cute?"

"It was just a suggestion. Geez."

During the rest of the drive to Karen's home, there wasn't much conversation between the two, except for when Karen spoke to give Eli directions. That, and the one time he casually asked how her shoulder was.

"It still hurts," she told him. They were approaching her house. "Pull over here. Don't pull into the driveway."

"Huh? Why not?"

"I don't want to have to explain anything to my folks. Especially why I'm with you."

"Me? What about me? How do they even know me?"

"Everybody knows about you," she answered, only half-kiddingly. "You're famous. Or... infamous, more like."

He was surprised she was able to make him feel insulted. "Thanks a bunch. I'm so glad I gave you this ride."

"Sorry. Really."

"Yeah, sure." Eli pulled over and put the car in "park."

Karen didn't move.

"Okayyy..." he said, turning to her. "You're home." She still didn't budge. "Hey! I said you're home. What are you waiting for?"

"We didn't finish our discussion about those tickets..."

"Oh, yes, we did."

"Oh, no, we didn't!" she snapped. "Look, you were right. I really can't afford forty dollars, but I'll give you twenty dollars for just one of them! Deal?"

"No! That's screwy!"

"But you'll get all your money back, and still get to go to see John Denver."

"Yeah. By myself. Because one ticket means no date for me!" Eli's eyes suddenly opened wide. "And since these tickets are for adjoining seats, you're the one who's going to be sitting next to me! It'll look like you're my date!"

"Oh? And is that so bad?" Now it was Karen's turn to be insulted.

"I didn't mean it that way," he said, lamely.

"Huh. I wouldn't go out with you anyway."

"Why not?"

"Because I've... heard... about you."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"You've taken out half the girls in the junior and senior class."

"So what? There's no law against being... I don't know... popular."

"No, but then you drive them out to some God-forsaken back road and pull the old 'put out or get out' routine on them."

Once again, Eli was offended. "That's... That's not true. I never..." He looked at Karen with the utmost sincerity. "Is that what they all say about me? They really say that?"

"Yeah. You mean it's not true?"

"No. I mean, there's a lot of them that I've, you know, done it with, but I never had to... Wow. They really say that?"

"Maybe they just said that because it made them sound better?"

"Maybe. Wow..."

"Hey, look, if you're not going to go all caveman on me if we go together, why don't we go together? Taking one car instead of two makes more sense, because there is an energy crisis, after all, and gas is up to fifty cents a gallon..."

"What do you mean, one car instead of two? You don't have a car anyway. Do you even have your license yet?"

"Well... No, so if you take me in your car, I won't have to worry about how I'm going to get there. I mean, when I was going to have two tickets, that wasn't a problem, because I would've gotten someone who owned a car to go with me, but then when I offered to buy only one of your tickets..."

He waved his hand in the air impatiently. "Okay okay okay! I get your point! Geez!"

"Then... I'll pay you for one ticket, and chip in for gas?"

"Okay. Wonderful. Terrific."

She reached for the door handle. "So it's a date?"

He looked at her sternly. "Only if you don't call it that."

To Be Continued...

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